When I first met my American father-in-law to be, I was struck by how big he was—big in stature and in his presence. Little did I know what a big a role he would play in my life.
Three days after our wedding in Israel, my husband took me “home” to his family house in Queens, New York, where he had lived since he was six years old. This was thirty-three years ago. Even though we resided there with his parents for only a few brief months, it remained home for us until the passing of his Daddy, six months ago.
Daddy Herbert ZZ’L was an extraordinary man. He was not only physically strong—his voice, his candor, his loyalty and love, all these were strong. As a doctor by trade, he chose a life of caring for and healing others, but his heart gave him the vocation to go beyond the required obligations and led him to take extra, incredible actions. He would devote himself to every family member, patient and friend. We never needed a physician, since Daddy was the best. He always perfectly nailed the diagnosis, even when we explained our ailments over the phone, and he knew the exact cure. Long after his retirement, his medical advice remained a constant and was invaluable to us. So many times, he would point out to us what the younger medical experts were failing to see. So many times, he saved us and others from catastrophes. He put energy and zeal into his daily tasks, whether it was praying loudly, savoring a good meal, or exercising at the track with his grandchildren and asking them his famous question, “Do you know Moshe Rabbeinu?” He truly lived with gusto!
When I became his new daughter-in-law, he immediately made me feel as loved as his own children. I will never forget the very challenging moments in my life when he was the one to give me medical and emotional support.
When my daughter Tova was born with a life-threatening condition, he sat beside my bed after my C-section, while I was hysterical, angry and confused. The doctors had decided that Tova should be sent out of town, away from me, to another hospital, in order to save her life. Daddy Herbert also became angry (the only time I ever saw him angry, as he was a very calm person) and explained that this was the best and only course of action to take, whether I liked it or not. Needless to say, after all these years, when I look at my daughter, Tova, a remarkable woman, mother, wife, I am so grateful to him.
Another time, when I was so ill that I could not walk, he picked me up and carried me into the car. He drove like a race car driver from New York all the way to Pennsylvania (4.5 hours away) to persuade a medical specialist of mine to perform a necessary surgery immediately. Countless times, he saved my life and sanity.
One bitter cold day, when my husband and I returned from shul, I remember him walking speedily towards us, from the house, holding aloft a few of his wife Jean’s fur coats, and draping them over us to protect us from the cold.
If ever I argued with my Mommy Jean, I would go to him for his input. He would be the peacemaker. She always said that he would “take my side” since he had a soft spot for me. But he always managed to appease us both.
I can still see him beaming beside my father at the bris of my son. He was always so proud of his grandchildren as they were growing up, and especially proud of their scholastic achievements and accomplishments, as learning was so important to Daddy Herbert. In fact, I always saw him with a book, whether a medical journal, a siddur, a gemara, or a great mystery novel.
He loved traveling and he adored music, from barbershop to classical and opera. He would emerge from his enormous New York Times every morning, only after he read it cover to cover.
I loved how he appreciated and admired the beautiful outfits of his beloved wife, daughters, and granddaughters, all of whom are fashion devotees. He always enjoyed my grand hats. Most of all, he was my biggest fan when it came to my cooking. Daddy Herbert loved every morsel of it and I loved him for that. My cooking came from the heart and I believe he felt that.
I was so very lucky to have him in my life. I am grateful for every moment I shared with him, grateful for his existence. I love you forever, Daddy-in-law. Yehi Zichro Baruch.